Lemon Peel, Coriander, Angelica, Orris Root, Grains of Paradise, Cubeb Berries, Cassia Bark, Almonds, Liquorice, and, of course, Juniper Berries. Sourced from Italy, Spain, Morocco, Saxony, West Africa, Java, Spain, China… None of them from Bombay or Mumbai, in fact, none of them from India…. But these famous ten herbs or ‘botanicals’ as they are preferably called, form the most famous Gin of all: the blue-bottled Bombay Sapphire.
This is the Gin that most people recognize the drink by, the iconic blue bottle is in every bar everywhere. It is a ‘gateway’ gin, the brand that people first have when they enter the category. It is a very good gin too, and has a very intriguing history.
It all begin in 1761, with a gin pioneer, Thomas Dakin. He set up gin distillery in Warrington, near Liverpool, and created Warrington Gin. He also purchased a new kind of copper still, what was called the Carterhead still. Two of these stills, John and Mary, are still used to make Bombay! In these stills, the botanicals were not thrown into the water to boil, but were placed on the top of the column for vapour infusion.
In late 1800s, the distillery was sold to another famous brewing family, the Greenalls, along with the vapour-infused recipe. Bombay Sapphire was born much later though, in 1950s, a guy called Alain Subin reworked Warrington’s for the cocktail market, and gave it a new moniker — Bombay Dry Gin. Meanwhile, Vodka had become the king of cocktails, and Gin as seen to be very old-world, traditional and something their granddad would drink. Gin had reached its lowest ebb, and people were questioning whether this drink would even last the turn of the century.
Along came Michel Roux, a US importer of alcohol and who had done wonders with Absolut Vodka earlier. They again reworked the recipe, added some more botanicals, and brought in the Sapphire. Now, this Sapphire bitwas probably inspired by the ‘Star of Bombay’ which was mined in Sri Lanka and presented to Mary Pickford, by a love-lorn admirer. The Star of Bombay now rests at the Smithsonian, but the Sapphire gained permanent fame as Bombay Sapphire, in its blue-tinted bottle. Arguably, it was this blue bottle which launched the brand. The world’s leading artists, architects and designers have used the bottle as their muse, and turned it into one of the most recognised alcohol bottle ever.
It would not be remiss to say that Bombay Sapphire and its blue bottle literally reinvented gin, attracted a whole new audience, bewitched a new category of bartenders and single-handedly pulled gin out of the slump it had found itself, to again become the star of the bar.
For years, Bombay Sapphire was my gin of choice, and it still is my old favourite. Paired with tonic and lots of ice, it continues to be the perfect G&T, and the blue bottle the North Star of my Gin Bar…